The church Ain’t No Hoe

by · November 3, 2010


…So why do we treat her like one? We pimp her out, expect her to turn a profit, and then betray her for another.

The Pimping

“Pimpin’ ain’t easy,” and that may be true, but Christians sure make it look like it ain’t no thang. In our attempts to grow the Church and reach the unchurched, we actually exploit her.

We brand her and market her. We dress her in short, yet “attractive” Sunday dresses called services, hoping that if people can just get a feel for her, all of us on our very best behavior, then others might want to take her for a ride around the block. We essentially tell her that she isn’t good enough the way she is—the body of Christ and all. We figure a slew of programs, agendas, and activities will make her more appealing to those seeking.

She can’t go around edifying the saints if she’s too busy trying to please them. She can’t be the light on a hill if she’s covered by what’s new, trendy, and sexy.

Like any pimp, we keep her insulated, even though we claim otherwise. She belongs to us, no one else. We mercilessly defend our right to keep her out of the wrong hands, but we curse her behind her back. We pretend that she’s God’s hope for the world, but we actually keep much of the world out, at least those we deem unworthy or unlovable.

We know that she’s His body, but when we get our hands on her, instead of resembling Christ’s glorious resurrected body, she looks more like His body after His crucifixion, broken and bleeding. She looks like just another hoe, little different than the rest that world has to offer.

The Profit

She’s become commercialized and globalized. She’s known more for pleasing customers than making disciples. She’s sold out, forced into prosperity teachings and “you deserve to be happy” doctrine.

We measure her success in earthly increments—size and members—and not in spiritual fruit—maturity in Christ.

But it ain’t just about the money, baby. The expected profit for the Church being pimped reaches far beyond financials. We measure success by asking: How many new visitors did you have on Sunday? How many salvations happened through your church this week, this month, this year? What’s your annual budget? How many missionaries are you sending out and supporting? What’s your square footage? What’s your baptism count?

Bigger buildings, mega-campuses, skyrocketing budgets all seem to be signs of doing something right. Growth equals success, even if that growth is thousands of Christians only able to drink spiritual milk, unable to eat spiritual meat.

Competition is king and it’s that spirit which has overtaken the Church. It’s one pimp staking his claim over another. Suddenly, it’s not the first that shall be last, but the first shall be winners. In the name of “spiritual profit,” individual churches competes to be the fastest, the biggest, the most unique, the sexiest. The competition breeds division. If one denomination or church down the street is doing it, well then, our girl should be doing it, too… only better.

The Betrayal

When our precious little lady doesn’t perform on the streets and fails to bring in “more business” (i.e. church numbers) or “new business” (i.e. unsaved), we’re quick to punish her, as if she had something to do with it.

“You’re not enough,” we yell at her. We look instead to political ideologies, national campaigns, and non-profits to do her work. We scold her for her shortcomings, forgetting all the while that we’re the ones who forced her into the biz in the first place.

We acknowledge that she’s broken in places, but instead of healing her, we place her limbs in a sling and force her to keep turning tricks. Where restoration is needed, we instead offer recycling of the same failed efforts and fruitless works.

We don’t strike her face or leave visible marks for the outside world to see. No, she has to keep up appearances, after all. So instead of publically admitting her flaws, we bruise her where no one else can see—in her leadership, in her theology. We end up with a twisted, mangled, and distorted Gospel, but one that’s much easier for the average American to play around with. It’s not all Truth, but it’s the tease that at least gets them in the front door.

Over time, she grows tired, haggard, weary from all that we expect of her. She can’t really live up to our expectations. She was designed by God to make disciples, not to please people. So we commit the ultimate sin against her: we leave.

Thousands of us are walking out on her when she needs us most. We betray her by abandoning her and picking up the next hot young thing. We tell ourselves she’s old, weathered, irrelevant. We head down the street hungry for the next trend or craze, certain that we’ll find more satisfaction in someone else’s arms.

The Bride

In our pursuit of relevancy, we’ve forsaken our theology. In our need to be current and catchy, we’ve defiled the Church and abused her.

Through our pimping, profiting, and eventual betrayal of her, we’ve forgotten who she really is—the bride of Christ. Instead, she’s traipsing around town in garments unbecoming of a wife, dressed in our versions of what the world wants, cut too tight and too short. She should be clothed in her wedding gown, holy, beloved. And we wonder why people don’t recognize her.

We tell everyone to check her out, but people only glance, expecting to see something of God. Instead they see a counterfeit version of her, dressed as a whore.

But the Church isn’t a whore. She’s the hope of the world, God’s plan A. She is us. Our protection of her identity is crucial. We have to stop selling her on the street. We have to know her purpose. We have to save her. She is supposed to bring radical change to the world. A tall order, but she is capable…If only we let her.

Where we’ve allowed consumerism and competition to reign, may we repent. Where we’ve disgraced her name and then walked away, may we repent. May we defend her with our words, actions, and our very lives. Jesus still loves us and gave Himself up for us. When He returns, he’s not looking for a tramp but a bride.

And we can repeat the angel’s very words back to Him, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

  • http://organiclifelove.com Carrington

    Great post! The visuals you gave made me ::shudder:: multiple times. I agree and think that we have turned the gospel to fit our own will and desires; our “American Dream.” When, the gospel and what Jesus calls us to is actually very radical, very beautiful, and completely set apart.

    In my own heart I can feel the Holy Spirit tugging me to this more radical way of life, and I’m hoping that my life begins to reflect that.

    Thank you for being bold enough to say it- to call us out for the way we have exploited the church- and for calling us back to the way she was supposed to be- the Bride.

  • Karis

    Very interesting analogy. I think that the thing I have seen happen most at out church is the betrayal. People have left because the preaching just isn’t as dynamic as (fill in the blank). When programs, Sunday school classes and groups have had to change (read evolve) to meet changing needs within the congregation, or to accommodate the abilities of the staff, some members are displeased with the change, so they leave.

    I see this as being the same as a husband or wife deciding that because they needed to live in a different house with their family, or have a job change, or rearrange their priorities to care for a sick family member, that they would rather leave and find a new family then make the change. I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone but me, but this post has definately gotten me thinking.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, great post! I was blown away by your analogy. It’s terrible, but unfortunately true at times. I think the idea that it stems from fear is what hit me most. The idea that our fears of what others will think of the bride of Christ that make us dress her up, abuse her and leave her. I hope that it isn’t always like that. I hope that the Bride will be seen for what she is, and also her Bridegroom.

  • http://twitter.com/TheMinorProphet Josh Luukkonen

    Nicole,
    Nice job! You’ve said a lot here I still have to process, and I’ll re-read this again. But for you and others, if you get a chance to listen to, and read the lyrics of, Derek Webb’s “And She Must And Shall Go Free” album, you need to do it. It’s an examination of the Church, and there’s some brilliant stuff on that record. It would fit right in with what you’re saying here.

    Cheers.

  • http://twitter.com/TheMinorProphet Josh Luukkonen

    Nicole,
    Nice job! You’ve said a lot here I still have to process, and I’ll re-read this again. But for you and others, if you get a chance to listen to, and read the lyrics of, Derek Webb’s “And She Must And Shall Go Free” album, you need to do it. It’s an examination of the Church, and there’s some brilliant stuff on that record. It would fit right in with what you’re saying here.

    Cheers.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Nicole.

    Last year I started going to a church that has a different take on remaining “relevant”. One of the founding members of the Vineyard church, John Wimber, says the job Jesus gave to Christians everywhere is to “convert, disciple that person into a leader, send out, repeat”.

    I wonder where in that message we should be merchandising the church as great entertainment…

  • http://twitter.com/brianckaufman Brian Kaufman

    Boom! One more thing – we’re all over her on Sunday’s but ignore her the rest of the week.

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    I currently attend a Vineyard church. Wimber was in so many ways such a revolutionary. You make a great point too. Making disciples has fallen to the wayside in the name of “entertainment.” It was the last thing Christ told us, and almost one of the first things we forget.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    ooh….that’s gooood!

  • http://codykimmel.wordpress.com Cody Kimmel

    This is a bold post Nicole and I empathize with your passion for reclaiming the Church for Christ. I always think of Jeremiah 2:11-13 and mourn for many of the exchanges we as a church have made for the glory of God. It seems though Nicole, that much of the above diatribe seems to be directed against superficial things the church is doing and either misses or over-generalizes the real issues.

    The problem is not that we have mega-churches or that we attempt to build church programs in such a way that is relevant and engaging within the culture. The problem is that we do all those things often at the expense of the poor, or that we do those things with idolatrous motivations.

    I struggle with this all the time and find it easy to rail against the church without critically thinking through the true sin under the symptoms. The problem with the American church is not truly an issue of ecclesiology, but rather an issue of idolatry. You seem to recognize the problem but the solutions you offer are to modify or get rid of the current modes of the church. And this just won’t change anything. I want to give you the same challenge I constantly have to give myself because you are obviously a critical thinker and are in a position to do a lot of good with regard to reform: Try at all cost to avoid the noise and the thunder of demonizing the church for the sake of glorifying Christ. The church, despite its shortcomings, is still the church and we need to show it the same love and reverence Christ shows it. As Augustine said, “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

    Please take this with the sincere respect by which it was written. You have a great blog and an excellent mind for ministry, and I’m looking forward to see how God uses it.

  • http://www.benforsberg.com Ben Forsberg

    Now its time to “be the change you want to see”. A tall order for us all considering the picture you paint (which I agree with). But we shouldn’t fault the entire bride just because some are “pimping” her. There are many great examples of people being the Church. Criticism is easy, change is hard.

    Good post!

  • patricia

    LOVE it.

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    Cody, I appreciate your comment. I agree with you on some points. I think idolatry is certainly a source of much of the Church’s sin. However, I would argue also that many in the Church really do not understand her true purposes, including disciple making and as you pointed to–tending to the poor. My sense is that many American Christians feel that the church is solely for them to be fed and filled up and not also, the other way around.

    I will defend my point that in many ways, I do think the church needs to be stripped of its “current modes”. Certain practices within the church I feel breed complacency and even apathy. I am of course desirous to see heart change but sometimes that comes first in the form of outward change. Changing how we look can often determine how we actually fee and thus act.

    I see much of the current churches attitude as one of “come and be entertained.” Not “go and make disciples.” Much of that message is conveyed through a Sunday service, a churches agenda, and programs.

    These ideas may seem simplistic and my suggestion for solutions are by no means “the answer” but I do think they are a part of the solution.

    Also, as I set out to write this I was weary of “demonizing the church” as you suggested. I hope that my love of the church is evident and not only my critical eye. I disagree with Augustine. I do not think the church is a whore and labeling her as such harms the body. She is only my mother and only a bride and I, along with many others, have to keep telling myself that.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and respectful comment. I appreciate the discussion in the name of love and Truth.

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    Thanks Ben. I acknowledge the good within the church (just not in this post). I agree that it is easier to point a finger than to actually change how we “do church.” I certainly don’t want to just be a critic but an agent of change.

  • http://twitter.com/DanNavarra Dan Navarra

    didn’t Derek Webb right a song about this, sort of?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53eAvrknuZA&feature=related

  • http://findingmyselfinhim.wordpress.com Danielle

    So sad, but true. I’ve seen so many churches become caught up in those trappings. Forcing their members to contract for donations about a tithe so they can build racquetball courts,etc. to bring in the sports minded….they only allow professional level singers (in voice and physique) and have the flashiest lighting on stage to attract the media minded… they have to have the biggest and the best sanctuary and transportation, etc to keep people from straying.

    I tried out a few of those places. I left. I was lost there. No one knew me. No one cared to.

    I’ve been at some churches that started out small, and focused on what the Lord wanted…who slowly but surely got caught up in how much money they were bringing in and how soon they could expand…and the congregation became filled with time-clock punchers, and most of the gardeners (those who cultivate growth) gave up and left.

    I love my church now. We may be small, but I’d rather we are always small and speak the Truth and see fruit in people’s lives, than become about an increasing congregation and a bigger building…and we lose sight of those in need.

  • Craig VanKorlaar

    Definitely a thought provoking post. Having done ride alongside with PHX PD Vice unit while working with Branded/streetlight the imagery hit home…possibly too much. I know we share many of the same views concerning the church but I distinctly remember God knocking the wind out of me one day when I made a similar statement. I suddenly was given these words with these firm words “Be careful what you say about my bride. She has faults, some big, but I still love her ” Again I agree with your premise and you acknowledge that the church is the bride but I wonder if there is a line we can cross that actually causes offense to God.

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    Craig, I recognize and sympathize with your heart in this area. My post is really directed at those individuals who fail the church, not the Church herself, as a whole. I know it is a hard distinction to draw because we are essentially what the Church is comprised of however, my aim is not to attack the Bride but criticize those who treat her as anything less.

    I pray I haven’t offended God. I hold strong convictions about the points I address in the piece and edited much of it, so as to not have it filled with hyperbole and superfluous criticism.

    Thank you for your heart felt and thoughtful comment.

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    Dan, yes there is a song by Webb about this topic. I was made aware by another commenter. I have never heard it but am going to check it out. Thanks!

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    Thanks Josh, I’ll check it out!

  • http://twitter.com/sochurch SoChurch

    We’re on the same page, and I know that you not only call things out but do something about them. This post made me read through my old blog and thought I would share the following except written from the jungles of Indonesia after my body slam for my unbalanced trash talking of the church.

    “I am very excited to share some things I feel God is personally calling me to when I return. None of which involve protesting new or upgraded buildings or even attempting to challenge the people (or tell the pastor he should tell them) “Act more [missional]!” …Rather it is small ways I can be a missionary and servant to the two groups I historically have felt the least compassion towards, American Christians and the institutions we call churches”

  • Craig Vankorlaar

    We’re on the same page, and I know that you not only call things out but do something about them. This post made me read through my old blog and thought I would share the following except written from the jungles of Indonesia after my body slam for my unbalanced trash talking of the church.

    I am very excited to share some things I feel God is personally calling me to when I return. None of which involve protesting new or upgraded buildings or even attempting to challenge the people (or tell the pastor he should tell them) “Act more [missional]!” …Rather it is small ways I can be a missionary and servant to the two groups I historically have felt the least compassion towards, American Christians and the institutions we call churches”

  • Kim Hayes

    Great post, and great title!! As I was reading, I was just wondering… are we (Christians) just afraid to “offend” anyone? Is that why we package the Church in such attractive attire and push aside those annoying little controversial topics that might cause trouble? Just wondrin’…

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    A great question and observation Kim. I do think the church fears offending people. Christ said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Sometimes, I think we do worry too much about looking good, instead of acting righteously.

  • http://twitter.com/thelovelyflea Ben Smith

    The Western version of “church” (which has more to do with the NT organizational context of those called out [by God] for assembly rather than the holistic justice-bringing, widow-defending “Bride of Christ”) is not too far removed from ancient Israel’s struggle with idolatry via Hosea’s story and this awesome passage from Amos 5“I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.”Powerful!I frequently ponder the state of this Western “church”.1. She has been heavily influenced by post-modernism and consumerism. I am not so sure that Jesus would not “turn over” our Bookstores, uninstall ProPresenter (Live Worship, MediaShout, etc.) from our macs and shut down our projectors.2. She can learn some things from the world of branding and marketing. If we are not to leave our organized local churches in droves I would say we need to do some rebranding within our current context. Many churches have misunderstood the reasons for having iconic logos, functional websites, social media presence, and just marketing in general so that some churches are run like half-assed business without giving serious thought to the actual community they claim to reach. I believe our current frustrations are the result of a misunderstanding of the two-fold nature of GATHERING (“ekklesia” / Assembly) and BEING (“Bride” / Symbol).3. The Pimp-Hoe Problem deals with the GATHERING which can result in the disfiguration of the BEING. We often use GATHERING and BEING synonymously in our Ecclesiology, but I believe they are not the same. GATHERING is the structure, systems and functions of the church. BEING is the mission, identity and purpose of the church. Scripture has plenty to say about BEING the church but leaves little instruction for GATHERING. We DO know that we need to be organized, create leadership systems, and meet with one another to praise God together, but the Western GATHERING has tried to make sense of this calling while neglecting its BEING. The GATHERING should cultivate the discipleship and the spiritual growth of the BEING. The only way to heal the BEING is to reassess our GATHERING.

  • http://modernreject.com Modern Reject

    Ben, you said it so well. I think part of the reason scripture, as you pointed out, gives so little instruction on our corporate gathering, is because we are not meant to focus or fixate on that portion–at least not to the extent that the Western church currently does.

    We are however, given great instruction in how to be the church–how to love, share our possessions, be of one mind and one Spirit, etc. yet we are more apt to talk about a lot of those things not necessarily act on them. Our current structure of church on Sunday does not and cannot facilitate “being” the church in the way the Bible describes it.

    You say the gathering “should cultivate discipleship and the spiritual growth of the being.” I would agree and add, that the gathering, while broken, is still vital. I think corporate meetings of the saints encourages our spirit, ushers in the Holy Spirit, draw us into God’s presence, and edifies the body. I desire to see the church healthy and whole and agree that bringing needed awareness to the Sunday service is a start.

    Thanks for the insightful and thoughtful comment!